Jessica Goddard + Sana Mahmood
People travel from all over the world to study at UK universities. Nowadays, cohorts are incredibly diverse, with a large population of international students. The transition into university life is not the easiest at the best of times, and this difficulty is very much heightened for young people from different countries. Not only do international students have to get used to living in a different place, but they also must adapt to any language barriers and cultural differences that come their way. However, some things can make this process easier. Here are our top tips for international students!
1. Do some research
It’s always good to be prepared, and you shouldn’t walk into your new student experience completely blindfolded. You’ve probably already done lots of research around your chosen university and the course you will be studying, but make sure to do some fact-finding about your new home as well. Find out things like the crime rates, where the best places to eat are, the best shopping areas and of course, where the local pub is (if you like to drink). By doing this, you’re bound to feel more comfortable when you arrive!
2. Don’t forget your health
Health insurance is often overlooked and missed by international students. The UK is home to the National Healthcare Service (NHS), which is one of the most popular Healthcare systems there is. International students can apply for this depending on their visa type and stay. By applying for this, you won’t have to face any medical bills and hidden costs, if you ever get into an emergency. Choose the GP practice closest to you and register as soon as you arrive in the UK.
3. Make a student bank account
To avoid any extra and unnecessary charges, ditch your usual debit card and sign up to a student bank account. Not only do they often come with additional perks, such as Amazon vouchers or a free railcard, but having a student bank account will also give you access to an arranged overdraft. An overdraft is effectively money that you can borrow from the bank which you pay back at an agreed interest rate, and having one is usually very handy for a tight student budget. Alternatively, you might want to opt for opening an online bank account, such as through Monzo or Revolut; these are quick to set up and have fantastic budgeting features.
4. Learn some of key phrases
You will probably already know the English language sufficiently enough to be able to complete your degree. However, you might also want to learn other phrases or ‘slang’ that might not have been taught in your English lessons. Depending on which area of the country you go to university in, the type of ‘slang’ used will vary, and it will eventually be necessary to learn some of it to understand what your fellow students are saying. You can either do this before you arrive in the UK or when you get here, but learning the British lingo is definitely something we’d recommend!
5. Keep in touch with friends and family back home
Homesickness is something inevitable when you’re an international student. Apps like Zoom, Skype and WhatsApp are your best friend and can keep you connected with people back home. It’s always important to keep in touch with them. This can help improve your mental wellbeing and its always nice to know that you have the support, even if it is from the other side of the world.
6. Don’t travel with too much stuff
It can be very tempting to come to university with everything but the kitchen sink, yet if you’re arriving into the country by plane, having a lot of luggage won’t be financially viable. Instead, leave your chunkier items at home and pack the essentials. The rest you’ll be able to buy when you move in; for example, bedding can be purchased cheaply from shops like Primark, Asda & B&m. At the end of the semester, try and sell items you won’t need for the next year instead of lugging them back home with you or invest in putting your valuables into storage over the summer holidays.
7. Come prepared for the weather
This one is partially contradictory to previous advice, but it is still relevant to all international students. When packing for university, have a careful think about what you’ll actually need. Considering the UK has a cold climate for most of the year, a large coat should be the first thing in your suitcase, along with a selection of warm jumpers. Also, make sure to pack some fancier outfits (we Brits love a good night out). If you’ve got the funds, clothing could be purchased when you arrive, but you might want to save your money for other endeavours.
8. Become an expert on getting around
It’s tempting to order a Uber every time you go out. It may be the easiest travel option but can deem to be very expensive over time. Look into the local bus services (times, stops etc) and train services in your area. In the long run, this will help you to save money and can even help you to get to know your local area a bit better. You may even be eligible for a bus pass or a 16-25 railcard which can help you save a bit more money when travelling to and from places.
9. Get to know your flatmates before you arrive
The people you live with can either make or break your university experience. Unless you’ve opted for a studio apartment, you’ll be sharing a kitchen and sometimes a bathroom with a group of complete strangers, so you should get to know them in advance. A lot of university accommodations will create Facebook pages or Whatsapp groups that allow you to find your flatmates; talking to them first over social media will reduce the chance of awkwardness when you finally get to meet, and you might even find some common interests.
10. Familiarise yourself with the grades
The grading system at UK universities can work a little differently from other grading systems in the world. It is confusing for everyone, even for students in the UK. It’s best to have some knowledge of how it works and how you will be graded at university.
11. Get involved!
Half the trouble of being an international student at a UK university happens when you arrive. The pressure to settle in instantly and make friends is overwhelming for everyone, not just those from a different country. Bear this in mind during freshers week and try your best to get involved with group activities. Even if you don’t necessarily get on with everyone you meet during those first few weeks at uni, it’s essential to put yourself out there and try new things. Universities will often put on events during this time to help international students settle in, so it might be a good idea to try these out!
12. Find a society
Everyone that goes to university or has already graduated will say that they found most of their friends through societies. Joining a society is the easiest way to meet people with similar interests to yours, so you’re more likely to find friends by joining one. At the majority of universities, there will be a society for anything and everything, whether that be sport, drinking cocktails or having a debate. Some of these cost under £10 to join, although sports societies are bound to be more expensive.
13. Make the most of the experience
As cliche as it sounds, your time at university really will fly by before you know it. One moment you’re moving into halls, the next minute you’re being given your diploma at graduation. The worst scenario would be if you ended up looking back with regret at the end of your degree, so make the most of every single opportunity that comes your way. Join societies, get involved, and live your best student self while you still can.
If our top tips aren’t enough, take a look at the Life of an International student too. Hopefully, it will help calm those nerves!